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Modern Family

I like this show. It's amusing, and I identify strongly with Phil and Cam. It also makes my husband reliably clutch his gut and guffaw once per episode, usually during a Luke one-liner, and that alone is worth watching the show, because it's funny to watch Dann watch it.

I like the notion that it's trying to illustrate more than the traditional nuclear family as we've seen it: A gay couple! A second marriage! An interracial/cross-cultural families! Loving your stepkids! Adoption!

Some of the things they do right, they do SO right. Example: Jay and Manny's relationship feels very real to me, as a stepmother. It's occasionally awkward, hesitant, over-thought. You want to do your best for this kid that has no reason to love you, so you don't always push things the way you would with your own children--and honestly, that's perhaps for your own betterment.

But the thing that 100% throws me out of it is that I have a hard time identifying with the women, because none of them work outside the home.

Sure, it makes sense that Gloria doesn't work--she's the trophy wife of a semi-retired and successful businessman. Now, just to be clear, her character is much more complex than "trophy wife," but her role is not, at least, not in the domestic sphere. She does cook, but I never see her cleaning (do I?), which means there's help. Which I think they refer to a lot--isn't that who dyed Jay's white robe pink recently? I confess to not being super-attentive to this fact. Anyway, I appreciate that Gloria has other roles, too: immigrant, mother, and bad-ass. I'll table sex object for now, especially since they've both backed off and examined Phil's weird little thing for her, which was seriously the one thing I hated about the show in the first season. All things considered, we know Gloria has worked, and worked hard, in the past; that she came from little; and she is certainly relishing her current role. Fair cop.

But does it make sense for Claire not to have a job? Phil is in real estate, and with the recent crises, it might behoove Claire to go to work. But let's leave the oddities of TV finances aside and consider that Claire is competetive, ambitious, and driven, and her youngest child is 12 or 13. How has she not combusted from being at home all this time? Her recent run at City Council or whatever is very late-arriving from that perspective.

So Gloria makes sense; Claire doesn't. The third stay-at-home parent on the show is not a woman, but let's take a look anyway. Cam seems reasonable in that role--no great sense of drive, and has a child at the age that most supports staying home. One suspects that in the working world, Cam would not be a high earner, where his wages might be a wash with the cost of daycare for their daughter. Where money and temperament align, it makes sense. Still doesn't make sense for Claire, though.

I appreciate that the show might be trying to show three families each with a stay-at-home parent. But let's get real. We have two very lightly-worked fathers on the show, as well. Jay is semi-retired. I think we've seen him at work... once? Twice? And how much do we think Phil really works? Couple hours away from home a day? Maybe four? I'm not saying a real realtor, I'm saying how Phil is portrayed on the show.

Basically, Mitch is the only one we see coming and going from work in a reliable fashion. I actually believe he's gone for 8, 9 hours a day--low for a lawyer, but still.

Taking a peek at the younger generation, we have two female characters who are getting very close to breaking out in the world on their own. Haley and Alex are both expected to go to college and get jobs. It is, in fact, a constant bone of contention with Haley that she might not get into a good college, and then OMG what will she do??? There's a weird upper middle class paranoia about this plotline, wherein it is not acceptable for her to consider something like apprenticing with her dad, since real estate doesn't require college. There's a long tradition of boys being brought into the family business... Does this not occur to anyone because Haley's a girl?

But more to the point, with no role models of working women in her life, why are they beating it into her that she has to go to college, has to use college to get a good job? Why has she never shot back a snarky comment about her mom's usage of her college degree? I'm not saying she would be right to do so, but why wouldn't that occur to her as distinctly hypocritical of her parents--teenagers being so finely tuned to the hypocracy of their elders?

Oh, sure, there are more layers to this. For one thing, they don't want her to waste her potential--she has the ability to do more, if she wanted. They don't want her to feel limited by her choices. They have no faith in her past boyfriend picks to think that they might be good wage earners if she wanted to do the stay-at-home mom route. I get it. It's complicated.

But I have conversations all the time with women Claire's age about working or not working, and it never, ever seems to come up in the show. And you can't say that this show is a comedy, it doesn't address stuff like this, because it does.

But only when it thinks of it.

PS I stand corrected in the comments by defectivewookie's wife. Claire had a hospitality-industry job of some sort before kids, and her career ambitions were addressed in an episode. One I totally don't remember, but hey. The upshot is still that it's rarely addressed... and it still feels highly unrealistic to see 3 single-income families wherein budgets don't even seem to come into play, in a show that otherwise does a reasonably good job portraying diversity in modern families.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
Huh. I hadn't thought about that. But you're right, they are all stay-at-homes. And really, Haley should be brought into the family business.

It's interesting, because on one level Cam and Mitch are the stereotypical flighty, bitchy gay couple, and on another level they're fully realized human beings. It's a comedy, where everyone's boiled down to a set of traits, but in a sense I think it's way better to have these stereotypes on screen and laughed at (and along with) than it is to have them hidden from view.

And I adore the subtleties of Jay and Manny's relationship. It is real.
Mar. 11th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
The show plays a really fascinating balancing act between stereotype and full characterization on almost every front. It's interesting...

Mar. 11th, 2012 03:56 pm (UTC)
Looking at Claire's situation, I think back to a time when her kids were not 12-18; when they were young enough to have required day care, I could see her making the decision to stay home much the way Cam is. After years away from work, it would be difficult to get back in, especially since Phil would have been doing really well in real estate when Luke was about 5-6.

Essentially this is the same thing that happened to my mom. She was a paralegal while my dad got him MBA. Once they had two kids, she stopped working and stayed home, and never had to go back.

I agree that the show lacking a couple where both work is kind of a dissonance with the day to day reality that a lot of us live; my wife and I both work, and I don't see that stopping. Then again, when we talk about having more children, we do bring up the possibility that someone will have to stay home, or basically work to pay day-care, and the worry that leaving the workforce will make re-entering a challenge down the road is a not insignificant part of the discussion.

In the end, I think the show is opting to answer the question "who watches the kids" with "stay at home parent" in order to keep the cast a little more manageable. I also think Claire's foray into politics was an excellent nod to the fact that her kids are old enough for her to re-examine a choice she likely made a long time ago for all the right reasons that she kept up with out of habit and comfort.

Also, I think the focus on Hailey going to college has more to do with her deciding what path her life should take than making her follow the footsteps of her mom or dad.

At the end of the day, while I know more people in the situation that you and I are in, I do know people whose lives fit the characters of the show, and I don't know if it would work the same way if they tried to make it any more universal than they have already managed.
Mar. 11th, 2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
In the end, I think the show is opting to answer the question "who watches the kids" with "stay at home parent" in order to keep the cast a little more manageable.

That makes loads of sense.

I understand your mom's situation--that happened a lot with our parents' generation. It happens significantly less with ours, however. I just find it odd that it's never even been addressed with Claire. What did she used to do before the kids? She literally has no identity outside of "Mom" and "hyper-competetive Halloween decorator."
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:21 am (UTC)
My savvy and intelligent wife, upon hearing about our back and forth, reminded me that Claire did, in fact, have a job before the kids.

In an episode I had completely forgotten until my wife, to whom I am lucky to be married to, pointed out that in a previous season, Claire re-connects with a woman she used to work with. Said former coworker was in charge of something involving international hotels, and had dalliences with attractive men on several continents.

As I recall (mostly due to being clued in - did I say I married well above my own feeble stature? Well, I did) the episode focused on the fact that the other woman was not married, didn't have a family, and did not seem fully happy with her choices. For that matter, neither did Claire, but in the end she kind of owned the choice to not become a career driven monster-mom...because that's what would have happened.

Moving beyond that, I believe that presenting families with one income, they're kind of showing us an idealized life. The fact that this was far more possible when people our age were kids than it is now just re-affirms the rose tinted hue this kind of show is going for.

Cam needs more gigs as a clown. Just saying.
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
My compliments to your savvy, intelligent, and far-above you wife. :)

Okay, that stands corrected!

And yeah, their single-income earners all do QUITE well based on their houses. I appreciate at least that Cam and Mitch either rent or own a condo, but it's not exactly squalor for all that it's not free-standing.

Mar. 11th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
I've noticed also how unlikely it would be that all the households are single-income. Claire should definitely be working somewhere. Luke was nearly 10 when the show started, for heaven's sake! And the show is titled MODERN FAMILY. Where do you find a modern family in which only one parent works these days?

They =have= had Cam complain about giving up his career as a music teacher to stay home with Lily a few times, but Lily's in nursery school now (they did a whole episode around it), so why wouldn't Cam hunt for a job? If nothing else, they could get a number of episodes out of it, how Cam can't find work, even though he's looking hard.
Mar. 11th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
I never caught the Cam career--cool.

I can see him putting off a return to work--they're trying to adopt another baby, and Lily is still pretty young, so it might be a "she's really only at daycare 2-3 days for the socialization/give Cam a breather." That's pretty common.

But Claire. Claire! *throws hands up*
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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